Inbox: Will Smith, Burns be fast risers in pros?

May 24th, 2024

We'll have plenty of fresh Draft content for you next week, including updating and expanding our current Top 150 to a Top 200 and Jonathan Mayo creating a new first-round projection. To whet your appetite further, let's answer some of your Draft questions.

Arkansas left-hander Hagen Smith and Wake Forest right-hander Chase Burns are clearly the two best pitchers in the 2024 Draft and are enjoying the two most dominant mound performances of the college season. That said, I wouldn't put them on the same level as Paul Skenes, who ranks with Mark Prior and Stephen Strasburg as the best pitching prospects in my three-plus decades in the business.

In terms of stuff, Smith and Burns have quality fastball/slider combinations that absolutely could play out of a big league bullpen right now. But from a practicality standpoint, they're both going to work around 100 innings during the college season, then have a six-week layoff before they sign a pro contract. Even if they join a playoff contender, it seems unlikely they'll get ramped back up to work in a high-stress role they're not accustomed to.

Skenes spent just 34 innings in the Minors before joining the Pirates. Smith and Burns won't move that quickly or surface in the Majors in the first half of next season. They could get to the big leagues as quick as anyone in this Draft class, though they probably won't make their big league debuts until late 2025 or early 2026.

If "bat skills" equates to offense impact, then the easy answer is Jackson Prep (Flowood, Miss.) shortstop/outfielder Konnor Griffin. The top high school prospect in the Draft, Griffin combines well above-average raw power and speed with plus defense at short and Gold Glove potential in center field.

If "bat skills" means pure hitting ability, some clubs question Griffin's bat and this question becomes much more difficult. There just aren't many players who combine at least a solid hit tool and glove with average or better power. The two most obvious guys are Florida's Jac Caglianone and Wake Forest's Nick Kurtz, but they're both first basemen.

Oklahoma State right fielder Carson Benge and Florida State third baseman Cam Smith fit that profile, but it's tough finding an up-the-middle guy who does. Maybe Harvard-Westlake HS (Studio City, Calif.) shortstop Bryce Rainer if you grade his defense better than we do. Maybe Wake Forest's Seaver King if you project him as a center fielder who will develop average pop.

Absolutely. One of the best hitters available, Tibbs has slashed .382/.498/.828 with more homers (24) than strikeouts (23) at Florida State while earning Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year accolades. He's currently ranked No. 22 on the Draft Top 150 and will move up a few spots on the Top 200.

With his combination of hitting ability, power and plate discipline, Tibbs has become the most obvious candidate to jump into the top 10 picks on a below-slot deal. He might not come at too much of a discount, however, because there are a number of clubs that covet him and he could land in the upper half of the first round on merit.

There's a fairly clear top 11 in this Draft, starting with Georgia outfielder/third baseman Charlie Condon and Oregon State second baseman Travis Bazzana. The second tier consists of Caglianone, Kurtz, Texas A&M outfielder Braden Montgomery, Hagen Smith, Burns, West Virginia shortstop J.J. Wetherholt and Griffin. Rainer and East Carolina right-hander Trey Yesavage (who's dealing with a punctured lung) are next up before the Draft descends into chaos.

I projected those 11 players to go in the first 11 picks in last week's mock draft, though it rarely plays out that way. But let's assume that it does, leaving no obvious choice for the Red Sox at No. 12.

New chief baseball office Craig Breslow's background is in pitching and Boston's system is light on quality arms, but I'm hearing mostly college bats -- the strength of the middle of the first round -- associated with the Red Sox. I guessed King in last week's projection, and other candidates include Tennessee second baseman Christian Moore, Cam Smith and Louisiana State third baseman Tommy White.